The boss of SeaWorld has accused British Airways Holidays of succumbing to pressure from animal rights activists after the operator revealed a new wildlife policy.
The new strategy does not specifically mention SeaWorld, but it “sees the travel company commit to never promoting the captivity of wild animals and discouraging its hotel partners from doing so”.
All attractions where captive wild animals are “central to the attraction” have been removed from its website, BA.com.
“While it will continue to offer customers the opportunity to book rooms in certain hotels that keep wild animals onsite, customers will not be able to book tickets for any animal attractions through British Airways Holidays,” the operator added.
“These hotels will be clearly labelled as keeping wild animals onsite in captivity to allow customers to make an informed choice when booking their holiday.”
BA Holidays said it had been working with international wildlife charity Born Free for a year to develop its animal welfare policy.
SeaWorld CEO Gus Antorcha hit back, saying: “When radical animal rights activists mislead and manipulate the truth to the detriment of our planet’s critically endangered animals, you have to question their motives.
“Pressuring companies and trying to shame them into cutting ties with independently accredited zoos and aquariums works against the vital research and conservation work to protect these animals.
“We are disappointed that British Airways Holidays succumbed to pressure from animal activists and changed its policy given the facts.”
Virgin Holidays stopped selling SeaWorld last month resulting in more than 20,000 tickets being removed from sale.
Thomas Cook’s removed SeaWorld from its sale last summer following pressure form animal rights groups and a survey which found 90% of its customers were concerned about animal welfare.
The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums wrote to BA Holidays managing director Claire Bentley warning that the stance “may damage the company’s reputation and its intended impact on social responsibility”.
The association urged the operator to work with zoo and aquarium associations before releasing its animal welfare strategy.
The association’s CEO Madelon Willemsen wrote: “Whilst it may have been well-intentioned as part of your broader corporate social responsibility initiatives, your proposed animal welfare strategy will actually limit opportunities for people from all walks of life to experience these valuable connections to the natural world through our Associations’ zoos and aquariums.
“We believe, by initiating this ban, BA Holidays will be losing out on important opportunities to engage their clients in awareness raising, education and action to prevent species extinction.”
Bentley said: “Our customers tell us they have concerns about wild animals being kept in captivity, and increasingly see animal performances in particular as outdated.
“We are delighted to have worked with Born Free to develop our new strategy which allows our customers to make more informed choices and we are contacting all our hotel and attraction partners about our new approach.”